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Nestled between the bottom rib and the top of the pelvis, the quadratus lumborum -- or QL muscle -- has several functions. It bends the lower spine sideways, rotates the trunk and helps stabilize the pelvis. Ironically, both inactivity and overuse can cause the QL to shorten and tighten up, leading to pain in the lumbar area. Keep the muscle long and loose by stretching it daily. Take note, back exercises are not "one size fits all." Stick with low back stretches that feel good and avoid those that cause or increase pain.
Warm up before stretching. March or jog in place for five to seven minutes to increase circulation and raise your core body temperature. When you break a light sweat, move into a continuous, repetitive dynamic stretch -- such as gentle trunk rotations -- to further prepare the lumbar area for activity. Complete 10 to 12 repetitions, moving at a slow, even pace. Alternatively, lie down with your feet flat on the floor and your knees directed upward. Slowly raise your lower and middle spine off the floor until you arrive at a "bridge" position in which your body is straight from your shoulders to your knees. Hold the position for 15 seconds, then slowly return to the starting position.
Sit on the floor with your legs in a comfortable, cross-legged position, palms resting on the floor near your hips. With your spine straight and your shoulder blades down and slightly back, slowly glide your left hand along the floor to your left while stretching your right arm up and over your head. Lengthen the entire right side of your body, arching your spine gently to the left. Keep your shoulders and chest square to the front. Your upper arm should hover above your ear.
Lie on your right side, propping yourself up on your right forearm and elbow. Keeping your core tight, your spine straight and your hips stacked on top of each other, press your palms into the floor in front of you. Straighten your arms slightly as you raise your torso farther from the floor, arching it to the left. Maintain space between your ears and shoulders and don't allow your upper hip to roll forward or backward. Feel a light stretch along your right side.
Lie on your back with your legs extended. Extend your left arm to the side, palm facing down. Raise your left knee to your chest, then draw it across your body. Your left thigh should form a 90-angle with your torso. Keeping your left arm and shoulder firmly on the floor, gently press the outer left thigh downward with your right hand. Relax to allow the lower spine to rotate fully.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart, abs engaged and knees slightly bent. Extend your arms overhead, pressing your palms together lightly. Maintaining a neutral spine -- without tilting the pelvis to the front or back -- straighten the spine and bend to the left. Focus on lengthening the entire right side of the torso. When you feel you've gone as far as you can go, exhale and use the left hand to pull the right hand, gently increasing the stretch. If you prefer, you can perform this stretch seated in a chair with your feet planted firmly on the floor in front of you.
- Hold every stretch for 15 to 30 seconds, repeating two to four times on both sides.
- Breathe normally to achieve a deeper, more relaxed and more effective stretch.
- When bending to the side, don't allow your chest to cave in; keep it open, broad and facing front.